September 24, 2021
Washington, DC—The National Consumers League (NCL), America’s pioneering consumer and worker advocacy organization, celebrates the White House announcement on September 20 of a new multi-agency effort to protect American workers from heat-related illnesses. The initiative includes the launch of a process to create a federal heat standard to protect workers.
The administration’s actions will add protections for outdoor workers in agriculture and construction, as well as for delivery workers, and will cover indoor workers in warehouses, factories, and kitchens.
NCL and the Child Labor Coalition (CLC), which it co-chairs with the American Federation of Teachers, have long supported efforts to develop a federal heat standard. NCL and the CLC have been active in a large coalition of groups led by Public Citizen, Farmworker Justice, and the United Farm Workers Foundation, that has been calling for greater protections from heat-related occupations.
The following statement may be attributed to NCL Executive Director Sally Greenberg:
“Heat stress endangers millions of workers, and a federal heat standard is long overdue. We’re grateful that the Biden Administration has responded robustly with this comprehensive, multi-agency initiative. Heat stress affects low-wage workers and people of color disproportionately. The COVID pandemic has reminded us how essential millions of American workers are, and this summer’s searing temperatures demonstrate the need for increased protections. When this effort is completed, countless American workers will be safer than they are today.”
The following statement may be attributed to NCL Director of Child Labor Advocacy, and CLC Coordinator Reid Maki:
“NCL and the CLC have tried for decades to protect child farmworkers, whose back-breaking work in the fields puts them and their families at higher risk of heat-related illnesses. Children are more vulnerable to heat illness than adults; they have a greater surface area to body mass ratio, they sweat less, and their rate of acclimatization is slower.
Weak U.S. child labor laws for the agricultural sector allow an estimated 300,000 to 400,000 children to work unlimited hours on farms, often beginning at the age of 12—as long as the child farmworker is not missing school attendance. In some instances, exemptions allow even younger children to perform farm work. The CLC has been working to close those loopholes and protect the health and safety of child farmworkers for over two decades.
The Biden Administration’s heat stress initiative will address the factors that create social vulnerabilities and disproportionate impacts. The initiative will also provide cooling assistance to households, allow the use of schools as cooling centers, add tree cover to reduce urban heat, and launch related measures such a “heat resilience challenge.”
“NCL thanks the U.S. Department of Labor and other involved agencies for this bold action and applauds the many advocacy groups, farmworker organizations, unions, and other colleagues in the Heat Stress Network, who have fought to bring about these protections,” said Greenberg.
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